What your remote workers aren’t telling you

Even the most considerate employers will find it difficult to know what their employees are thinking and how they are feeling. This is only made more difficult when employees work remotely and is further exacerbated when they are based internationally. ​

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess
Dec 23, 2018

With the many acknowledged benefits of hiring remotely – including access to great talent, increased productivity and greater diversification – it is unsurprising that employers are encouraging the transition toward remote work and that 50% of employees around the world are working remotely at least 1 day a week. 

It is unclear whether the trend toward remote work stems from companies’ cutting costs, employee demand, or a combination of the two, but what is apparent is that both sides like what remote work has to offer. In an attempt to find out a little more, I spoke to Nikki, one of my colleagues at Shield GEO who has been working remotely full-time and managing a fully remote team since March 2018.  I’d been wondering if the hype around remote work was justified and wanted to get the perspective of a worker and leader in a remote environment.

When asked about the benefits of remote working, here’s what Nikki had to say:

“I have a better, more organised balance to work/life ratio due to the flexibility. More time with my husband and children, and other family members.

I can work from anywhere if necessary and get a change of scenery. I also have the flexibility to get some personal errands/chores done during day, do the Nursery runs for my 2yr old, and attend her activities without having to keep booking days off.

It allows me to live my life all the time rather than just in the evenings or on weekends.”  – Nikki

The ability to work wherever she wants and around her own schedule seems to be invaluable. But is it all beer and skittles?  Apparently not.  A 2017 Harvard Business Review study of 1,100 employees identified some key challenges in remote working.  In particular, remote workers tend to feel shunned and left out. They specifically worry that their co-workers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them, and don’t fight for their priorities. 

It’s almost a paranoia that their lack of a physical presence in the office means there is an emotional absence in the eyes of colleagues and possibly their manager.  It makes sense when you think about it – imagine joining a work call from your computer while a group of your team are in the office together. It would be difficult to interject, to share your ideas, or even keep up with the conversation. It would be easy to feel left behind in the conversation or as though you’re inconveniencing everyone else as they stop to repeat things for you. Alternatively, when communicating through digital messenger streams, it can be difficult to gauge the tone of a colleague you don’t know well personally. This can easily lead to miscommunication and sometimes suspicion between colleagues.

If no one is complaining, there’s nothing to worry about, right?  Wrong.  Assuming that unhappy people articulate their issues is naïve and there’s a real danger in thinking unhappy employees will be forthcoming with their feedback and that you’ll get the opportunity to take action.

So why aren’t you hearing about some of these concerns? When it comes to talking to superiors, remote workers aren’t always forthcoming about the issues they’re having and I suspect there are two reasons for this: 1. They feel like they are lucky to be working remotely and don’t want to do anything the jeopardize the opportunity, and 2. Remote work is still very new to many companies and so remote employees aren’t aware of the solutions and help that can be made available to them, or that the struggles they’re facing are common among other remote employees.

I spoke to Nikki about her experience managing a remote team and researched remote teams in external companies. From this, I’ve identified 4 common things your remote employees aren’t telling you, and some potential solutions you might like to implement or at least have in your toolkit:

4 things your remote workers aren’t telling you and how you can help

1. They’re lonely and feel left out

This comes first on the list for a reason. A struggle to maintain social connections or a sense of teamwork with colleagues is a significant challenge for remote workers and it should be the focus for any employer trying to better manage their remote employees. A less than ideal relationship with managers can limit the motivation, loyalty, and advancement of remote workers, which may lead to unwanted turnover...read more

Shield GEO makes international employment simple. Our customers use Shield GEO to employ and payroll hundreds of workers in over fifty countries. Find out more. 

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

Director, Shield GEO Services Ltd

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